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Kardashian’s ‘Kimono’ line once again sparks cultural appropriation debate

American reality star Kim Kardashian West is facing backlash over the controversial naming of her debut shapewear line, ‘Kimono Intimates’.

Launched on Tuesday, Kardashian claims that the label “celebrates and enhances the shape and curves of women” and features a range of 9 different colours designed to match various skin tones. Kardashian explained to her 61 million Twitter followers that there have “been so many times I couldn’t find a shapeware color that blended with my skin tone” and each product is intended to make everyone “feel their most confident”. In the last year, Kardashian trademarked the brand name “Kimono” and has since filed trademarks for “Kimono Body”, “Kimono Intimates” and “Kimono World”.

This has caused a significant backlash from Japanese people on social media accusing the star of disrespecting the traditional kimono garment. The Victoria and Albert Museum describes the kimono as a “simple, straight-seamed garment […] worn wrapped left side over right and secured with a sash called an obi”. It is widely recognised as an “enduring symbol of traditional Japanese culture”.

Japanese citizen Yuka Ohishi explains:

“We wear kimonos to celebrate health, growth of children, engagements, marriages, graduations, at funerals. It’s celebratory wear and passed on in families through the generations. [This] shapewear doesn’t even resemble a kimono – she just chose a word that has Kim in it – there’s no respect to what the garment actually means in our culture.”

Other Twitter users have condemned Kardashian for her poor word choice, accusing her of being “culturally offensive, especially if it’s merely a word play on [her] name” and describing the range as “absolutely tasteless and awful”.

Professor Sheila Cliffe from the Jumonji Women’s University has drawn attention to the irony of the tight silhouette of Kardashian’s new lingerie line: “the [aesthetic] of the kimono is graceful, elegant and gentle. It is not overtly revealing or figure-hugging. It wraps the wearer so they are not exposed”. She insists, “if I made a bra and called it a sari… some people would be very annoyed. It shows extreme disrespect… [the kimono] is an expression of Japanese identity.”

This is not the first time that Kardashian has attracted criticism for cultural appropriation. Last year, after styling her hair in what she described as “Bo” braids to mimic actress Bo Derek’s hairstyle in the 1979 film 10, social media swiftly accused the reality star of crediting a white woman with creating traditionally black African “Fulani” – or “cornrow” – braids.

Kardashian has not yet responded to calls for her to consider changing the ‘Kimono’ brand name. Meanwhile, Cliffe is adamant that “that word does not belong to Kim Kardashian”.

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